Could parcel lockers in transit stations reduce traffic congestion in Seattle?

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UW researchers want to know if parcel lockers that aren’t owned by a specific company could alleviate traffic congestion in Seattle.Matt Hagen

Seattle is one of the most congested cities in America.

Delivery trucks take up space on already crowded roads and idle in parking spots and loading bays. And if no one is available to sign for a package, the process has to start all over again.

The University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab at the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center (SCTL) has been looking for solutions: Parcel lockers that aren’t owned by a specific company, such as Amazon, could alleviate the strain. These lockers would provide truck drivers with one location to drop off their packages the first time. And if these lockers are located in a public space, such as a transit station in a dense neighborhood, residents could pick up packages at their convenience.

Now SCTL has identified five viable locker locations at three different Seattle Link light rail stations for a future pilot test. The researchers described their findings in a recent report.

“There are some genuine practical hurdles to putting a locker in a public space,” said Anne Goodchild, the director of the SCTL and a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Most academic research would stop at ‘we’ve built a model that shows that lockers should be faster,’ but we wanted to define problems and establish a framework for measuring improvement. Otherwise, how do we know if our suggestions are better?”

Haena Kim, a doctoral student in the civil and environmental engineering department, led the data collection team during the pilot study at Seattle Municipal Tower in April.Matt Hagen

In the first demonstration of a common carrier locker system in a public space in the U.S., Goodchild and the team examined how lockers in the Seattle Municipal Tower would affect package delivery. Their case study showed that common carrier lockers could reduce the time truck drivers spend in the tower by 78 percent. In addition, these lockers offer users a safe, automated self-service system to retrieve their packages.

Putting common carrier lockers at transit stations seemed like the best next step. Then people could retrieve packages whenever they ride the light rail.

First the team addressed whether Seattleites would be interested in picking up parcels from Link stations.

“This could be a brilliant idea that lowers trucks’ failed first delivery rates,” said Barbara Ivanov, director of the Urban Freight Lab. “But if the riders don’t find it convenient, then they’ll choose to have the trucks drive all over the place instead.”

The team then surveyed riders during morning and evening rush hours over five days at the UW, Capitol Hill and Westlake stations.

For the UW station, 67 percent of the 43 surveyed riders said they would use common carrier lockers installed at the station. At the other stations, about 40 percent of riders were interested.

“Tens of thousands of riders go through these stations every day,” said Ivanov. “If we see that half of the ridership is interested in this new service, that is a very strong positive response.

Because the results were so encouraging, the researchers partnered with the Seattle Department of Transportation, Sound Transit and UPS to find viable locker sites at all three stations for a potential test pilot.

Currently, there are no official plans for a test pilot due to lack of funding. But the group is confident that this idea provides a unique solution that will both reduce delivery truck traffic in Seattle and provide residents with a safe and convenient way to receive packages.

“It’s really hard to identify someone this is not good for,” said Goodchild. “It’s good for the delivery company: a locker is a more reliable receiver than you are. And that’s one less trip for you.”

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